Sunday, May 19, 2013

Next to Normal, Close to Home

Have you ever seen the musical Next to Normal? There are a few laughs, but it's a tragedy. A tragedy about a grieving mother and a neglected daughter and a stoic, silent father. A very good friend played the role of the mother in a local production, so Mr. E and I got tickets. My own mother warned me about the themes in the play. I took tissues. The wiki page has a good scene by scene summary, but to summarize even that: the family is dealing with the abject grief of losing the son, the first-born, at age eight months.

As we were getting ready I told Mr. E that the play could be sad, but if it didn't trigger my own experience and my own grief, then maybe I wouldn't cry. So clearly I did not know what I was talking about. First, the son (who is represented at 18, the age he would have been) sings to his sister that she cannot compete with him because he is perfect. So that's true. The child who didn't live is everything the parent ever wanted him to be. And then the son invited the mother to join him in his spirit land. I am so far from feeling that way now, but I remember feeling that way. Like nothing else mattered. I just wanted to be with Blue. It didn't matter that I didn't believe in that stuff. And then, as much as anything that resonated with me, came the part where the father refused to tell the mother the son's name. She had electric shock therapy and lost her memories. As they came back she remembered the son, but not his name. And it was just like what happened between Chris and me. Our baby never had a name. He refused to call him anything that resembled a name. My baby, my baby, MY baby had a name.

In the characters you could identify the denial, the dysfunction. And you also started to wonder if the mother was really deranged, or just terribly, terribly sad. So her male doctor tells her she's sick? What does he know? That was another number--that the father did not know what the mother was feeling. Chris never knew what I was feeling. He was terrified of what I felt. He knew he wouldn't have changed places with me for even a moment.

The play was very sad of course, but very good too. My friend was very good. But I did keep wanting the son to free his mother to live with a loving memory and not a haunting memory. To realize that her living is not the same as her forgetting. In the end the father realizes that he needs to get help for his own repressed grief.

After it was over--no, while I was still watching--I felt glad again that Chris and I went our separate ways. Glad that we don't carry this grief together in our own joint dysfunctional and fucked up way. But I still wonder about Chris. I wonder, still, if the fact that his son died ever did bring him to his knees.

I am writing a song--finally, slowly--about this. It's mostly still in the idea phase, but there are these (two) lines:
For how long, did the burying take?
How strong was the flood when it came?

Like I said, it's in the idea phase. But the idea then is that the burying of his emotions parallels the burying of the baby's ashes, and the literal flood exhumes the grave and the physical and the emotional become the same thing. The words, the tune, they make me sad. I don't get anywhere with the writing because I just get so tired in the middle of it.

I don't want to think about Chris. But I have been thinking about what he's doing now, what his life is like. I wrote about that months ago. I still think it. And the ways in which Next to Normal hit close to home involve him, so I'm thinking about him more. I feel like I'm not getting anywhere. Do I need to speak to Chris to resolve this? Would I ever even try to speak to Chris again? The thought intrigues me. Not the speaking to him, but the thinking about speaking to him.

So I'm not crazy! Sad, maybe, but not crazy.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Storm A' Comin'?

Mother's Day, take three. This time, a baby. I don't really feel like this year is going to knock me down, but then again sometimes it happens when you least expect it.

I haven't been sad in awhile. I mean, about Blue. I still think about him a lot, but not so specifically anymore. I think I have recovered from the PTSD. It's not so terrible to remember what things were like right after Blue died. I do still get angry about articles and comments about abortion access and health care access and the right to make a medical decision on behalf of your own child, however.  I mean I always believed in reproductive rights, but not with the same understanding I have now.

See this recent New York Times Motherlode guest blog. North Dakota wants to ban abortions where the fetus has Down's syndrome. Some people in the disability rights community think this is a good idea. They think that to abort for genetic defects is to practice eugenics. As if people would choose abortion over having a brown-eyed child, if only they could. Never mind that genetic defects are evolutionary hiccups, mistakes, DEFECTS...not gifts. So my kid, had he lived, would have been immune to cholera. Great. Anyway...North Dakota wants to ban all abortions. Just say it that way. And then admit that you are wasting enormous amounts of taxpayers dollars when your state chooses to defy the constitutional law of the United States.

Who are these people who think that abortion should be banned where a genetic defect is detected? Do they have special needs children? Did they have a child who died at a very young age? Did they have a child who suffered? Whom they watched struggle to live every day, wondering "is this the day we say goodbye?"

Will they require genetic testing in all pregnancies? Because what if you wanted to get an abortion before the trisomy can be detected? Will we continue to find ways to detect more and more abnormalities, earlier in pregnancy, less that we may ban more abortions?

And why would anyone else think that they knew better than I what is the right health care decision for my child? And why oh why, would anyone think I have anything derogatory to say about those born with disabilities? The fact that I believed my child would be better off not living means I have more compassion for those with disabilities, not less. And when I want the right to choose for myself, I am not asking for the right to take that away from you. I find this entire thread of the argument so lopsided and, well, ridiculous. "I didn't know I was having a special needs child until I had him or her. Now I know nothing else. You shouldn't either." You know, I never thought, "This child's life will be awful. He will not live to be an adult. In order to spare other babies like him this pain, I require abortions." Here is another way to illustrate the ridiculousness of the anti-abortion argument: if you decide not to resuscitate when your grandmother reaches the end of her life, then you believe no grandmothers should be resuscitated, and you think anyone who chooses to resuscitate is...I don't even know. I don't know where that argument comes from and where it goes, because it is incomprehensible to me. That someone else thinks they can make that decision for me. And one more point...who pays for the health care for the special needs baby? Last time I checked, children with pre-existing conditions--that is, children born that way--could be denied health insurance. (Yes, I know, the Affordable Care Act has changed this. And we all know that's going over well.) OK, now I really AM getting angry!


But back to the topic at hand...Mother's Day. Sprout will be almost 7 months old. The day has (almost) lost its meaning for me again.